Tag Archives: Ben Kingsley

Failed Critics Podcast: Miserable Old Gits

the boss

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Failed Critics Podcast. With Steve Norman away on holiday, it was up to Underground Nights‘s host Paul Field to sit in the driver’s seat and lead Owen and Liam through one hour and 45 minutes of film chat, reviews, discussions and old-man-misery.

The show begins as it always does – with a quiz! – before moving on to the latest news including The Passion of the Christ 2 (yes, it’s getting a sequel) and Kevin Smith’s long-awaited sequel-turned-TV-show Mallbrats.

In What We’ve Been Watching, Paul kicks-off with a review of Israeli director Vladi Antonevicz’s exceptional and chilling documentary, Credit For Murder, as he tracks down members of Russia’s notorious Neo-Nazi party N.S.O. who have claimed ownership of a brutal beheading video that appeared on YouTube in 2007. Meanwhile, our resident obscurist international-film fan Liam reviews the Shakespearean tribal-love story Tanna, filmed entirely on the remote South Pacific island of Tanna. Lastly, Owen has a few choice words for a documentary that popped up on Netflix recently, the Resurrection of Jake the Snake.

Finally, we end the show with our usual round-up of the latest films to hit the cinema: Owen defends The Conjuring 2 as James Wan ruffles Paul’s feathers; Liam just about finds some nice things to say about Learning to Drive; Paul has a new favourite Michael Moore documentary with Where to Invade Next?; and there’s a very mild disagreement between the trio over Melissa McCarthy’s latest comedy, The Boss.

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The Jungle Book – More Than The Bare Necessities

The_Jungle_Book_HD_Screencaps-23

Remakes are a cause for concern in the world of cinema. Not many of them work, or can hold a candle to the original. An almost all CGI/digitally rendered version of the Jungle Book? Brave? Yes. Worth doing? No.

My thoughts until I saw the trailer.

It looked dark, exciting and very real, but that did not mean the film would be the same. Luckily it was.

Like most people who had a childhood, Disney films are remembered fondly. None more so than the 1967 version of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. The story, as I’m sure all the readers know: human child Mowgli lost in the jungle as a baby, raised by wolves and hated by the tiger Shere Khan. The movie is iconic for its characters and its catchy tunes.

The 2016 version, directed by Iron Man‘s John Favreau, is a darker and more grown up version but still retains its sense of fun. The plot is basic, but you don’t need something intricate; it is the performances, visuals and action that make the film a joy to watch.

It certainly is brave to make an almost exclusively CGI movie (I suppose it would have been braver to do a live action movie with a child acting with dangerous animals). We’ve all seen the flack that the Star Wars prequels and Hobbit movies got for excessive use of the green screen.

Here it works though. The jungle looks beautiful; from the muddy ravines and hillsides traversed by herds of wildebeests, to the wolf packs home and Baloo’s lush looking place of residence. The animals look amazing as well. Very real (I should know, I’ve been to Monkey World and Longleat) and you can see a lot of work has gone in to making both appearance and movement accurate. The only minor gripe is the smaller animals, which to me at least, looked very computer generated.

However, it is the voice acting that makes this film. Every single one is spot on. Idris Elba perhaps steals the show as the menacing Shere Khan, hell bent on killing Mowgli. He makes the character wonderfully menacing and intimidating. He really makes the tiger sound like someone to fear.

Of course, Bill Murray is great at as the fun loving Baloo. His singing voice might not be the best but if you cannot enjoy his rendition of the Bare Necessities then there is something wrong with you, you joyless misery. Sir Ben Kingsley is also wonderful as the wise protector of Mowgli, Bagheera.

You can almost run down the cast list and tick off every one doing a voice as top drawer. Scarlett Johansson in her brief appearance as Kaa is eerie and Christopher Walken puts in a great turn as the no-longer-an-orangutan King Louie.

Neel Sethi, as the only real thing in this movie, also does well. It seems a very natural performance and it looks like he’s having fun with it. Don’t forget this is a kid in his first major role working with, for the most part, things that are not there.

The best compliment you can give to the voice acting is that now, in my head, those actors and actresses voices are those characters whereas before seeing this I could still hear those from the 1967 version. Elba et al have over ridden those voices in my mind.

The Jungle Book is a beautifully crafted retelling of a classic story and well worth seeing. I only saw it in 2D but have a feeling it is one of few films where 3D works.

Oh and stick around for the end credits.

The Walk

maxresdefault“I whisper so the demons won’t hear me. It’s impossible. But I’ll do it.”

The story of Philippe Petit is as amazing as it is insane. A man who fell in love with the idea of doing a tightrope walk between the towers of New York’s World Trade Centre years before they were even built and spent every waking minute in the pursuit of this dream. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact that a few recommendations and the announcement of this film pushed me to watch Man on Wire, the documentary inspired by the same autobiographical book as the film, I’m not sure I would have ever believed anything I saw on screen this weekend.

Determined to become a tightrope walker from a young age, Philippe Petit (an amazing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but I’ll come to that in a bit) devoted his entire life to performing after watching a circus tightrope act and finding himself to have a bit of a talent for it. Spending all his free time and money learning the secrets of his chosen craft from circus veteran and high wire family patriarch, Ben Kingsley’s Papa Rudy, Philippe soaks in everything he can from his mentor and sets about making his name.

Following Philippe from his days as a street performer, to his discovery of a news article talking about the World Trade Centre plans and how tall the towers will be. We see him go from his first public failings to the moment he is inspired by the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral and wire walks between them. Explaining his process in getting his wire across and how this will be infinitely more difficult at over a hundred floors up and god knows how far away the other tower is, this small-scale trial run for Philippe’s “coup” is a heart stopping look at how the man pushed himself to not fail.

On to New York and Petit and his accomplices, an Ocean’s Eleven style collection of misfits that he and his street artist girlfriend have assembled on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, set about pulling off the most elaborate and illegal street performance in history. As the daredevil wire walker edges closer to his big day, he has to battle through countless obstacles; from the security around the unfinished buildings to the fears and doubts building up inside him as the day he tries to conquer the world’s tallest buildings gets nearer.

The Walk is, without a doubt, a spectacle piece. Designed for the 3D IMAX experience that this week’s previews have been offering and it delivers, completely. Robert Zemeckis’ biopic is as beautifully directed as any in his filmography, with the added factor of being able to give us all a stomach churning look over the edge of the Trade Centre towers, staring at the abyss of the 415 meter drop to the streets of Manhattan. Every gust of wind and every shake of Philippe’s wire are quickly followed up with stomach churning imagery of the impending fall that, for those that don’t like heights, would be vomit inducing. The further up the film’s lovingly recreated Twin Towers we are taken, the more we are treated to sweeping New York vistas and plunging views of the streets below the performer. The direction and cinematography is so striking, that every time Philippe Petit arrogantly flutters around on the edge of the building or screws around on his rope, it instantly puts your heart in your throat and has you clinging on to your seat for dear life.

And speaking of Philippe Petit, we really need to spend some time on Joseph Gordon Levitt’s performance as the crazy daredevil. Because if you ever had doubts about JGL’s acting abilities, and you really shouldn’t have by now, then this should clear things up for you. Anyone that has seen Man on Wire, a film that is almost required viewing before watching this film so you can get a feel for the guy, will know that Petit is a wacky, wacky dude. I mean, most performers like this have their quirks, but this guy absolutely lives in his own little world; unicycling around the streets of his home town and mucking around on ropes at stupid heights are evidence to this. He’s such a great, interesting character and I was really interested to see how he would be brought to the screen. I wasn’t disappointed. From his opening lines to his final words, Levitt’s incarnation of Philippe is spot on. As he narrates the entire film from the torch of the Statue of Liberty with the The World Trade Centre towers standing behind him the entire time, Levitt IS Petit. The way he moves his body, his eccentric way of describing everything and his generally weird and wacky overall persona is right there for all to see. JGL does a wonderful job of bringing those of us that might not necessarily watch documentaries an amazing insight into this kooky little dude. With excellent support from Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge-Dale and Ben Kingsley, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has brought a legend to the screen with superb results.

The Walk‘s two hours don’t fly by, but you won’t be bored either. It’s split pretty much evenly between getting to 1974 New York and making the titular walk. Its moments of story telling are deep and interesting, whilst its time on Philippe’s wire, the streets below and all the space in-between are brilliantly intense. Robert Zemeckis has made the true story of a genuinely interesting guy into a genuinely interesting film and the only people that should be avoiding this flick, are those with a crippling fear of heights.

Exodus: Gods & Kings

In what is the last blockbuster of 2014, Exodus: Gods & Kings delivers an suitably enjoyable romp. However resident cynic Matt Lambourne proverbially pokes Ridley Scott’s latest sand and sandals epic full of holes.

By Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)

exodus 2Unfortunately Exodus missed the release deadline for the Failed Critics end of year awards for 2014, so by default it will be spared any embarrassment for it’s absence. In truth it probably wouldn’t have harmed the chances of the eventual top 10 anyways, that said the movie is deserved of some attention.

I must state in the interest of fairness that I am an admirer of the period of history that is the source material for the film, although not necessarily a big interest in the religious aspect. Being an atheist, there are aspects of the film that are malignant to my overall enjoyment of the film. OK, now that is out of the way we can get stuck into the bones & meat of Exodus: Gods and Kings.

The first thing that will strike you about this film is the outrageously beautiful set and costume design. If there was any question where the reported $140,000,000 budget for this movie went (with the exception of Christian Bale & Joel Edgerton‘s barber costs) then look no further than this, as this film looks as beautiful as it’s protagonists’ spray tans.

For the uninitiated, Exodus retells the story of the rising of Moses and his leadership of the Hebrews as they break free of 400 years of slavery under the hands of the Egyptian Pharaohs, but in overly dramatised Hollywood fashion. Bale & Edgerton are cast in the main roles of Moses and Ramsees respectively and in fairness do a decent job for the most part in convincing they are masters of this ancient world we are thrust into.

The Make-Up/Tan/Costume of Edgerton is particularly impressive, he looks absolutely superb and entirely in place as King of the Egyptian realm. The film follows a similar opening to that of Gladiator, in whereby you are introduced to this seemingly stable power triangle in the form of the current Pharaoh, Ramsees the successor and the overly favoured army General in Moses. In fact, its the same damn template to a tee and I doubt too many people who see this movie even on a casual viewing would fail to detect this obvious repeat of formula.

You can’t blame Ridley Scott, really. It worked so well with Gladiator that when he dared to change it up a little for ‘Kingdom of Heaven‘ it didn’t yield the best return or praise. Exodus wants to be Gladiator for the most part and delivers in scale and grandeur, however it doesn’t on 2 major components; character development and battle sequences.

Don’t get me wrong, the character arcs for Moses and Ramsees are decent enough. Moses gradually shifts from part of the Egyptian machine to reluctant leader of the Hebrews at just the right pace, whereas Ramsees’ plunge into Megalomania dictates the tempo for the entire story. However the other characters are entirely symbolic and add almost nothing to the quality of the movie, nor the story other than their obligatory inclusion to be consistent with the legend of the film’s subject matter.

This moves me along nicely to one of my biggest movie bugbears, pointless casting. There are several inclusions in this movie that are fairly high on the pay-grade that I either did not recognise or felt brought zero to the table in either performance or draw of their name to the target audience.

Firstly, lets start with Aaron Paul. His stock has fallen ever so slightly since finishing Breaking Bad and immediately jumping into a shitty intellectual property in the live-action Need for Speed but he still holds a little pull for a certain audience, but why on Earth is he in this? He is just about recognisable in his get-up as Joshua (another win for the make-up team) but he delivers no performance value in this at all, in fact he barely even speaks!

Ben Kingsley will sell himself out to just about anything that requires a remotely dark complexion and has become a caricature of his standout performance in Gandhi. His face just about adds some form of safety/trust as a tribal elder but again, no value overall and another big casting fee wasted. Then there are the ones I failed to recognise at all. Sigourney Weaver totally escaped my recognition despite being fairly prominent… I’ll give that one up for my own ignorance perhaps. The usually excellent John Tuturro is cast as Pharoah Seti, whilst doing nothing wrong in performance it just appears as one of those token favour castings… why would you squeeze in a heavyweight Jewish actor in a role as a Pharoah, someone that oppresses persons of your faith? Then there was the peculiar addition of Ewen Bremner (Yes, the Scottish Ewen Bremner) as one of Ramsees’ advisors.

The whole casting smacks of some sort of agenda. You have the most caucasian actors in the world playing all the juicy Egyptian/Hebrew roles (with the aid of heavy tanning I might add!) whilst they carefully selected performers with Arabic heritage for the few select roles that were of that ethnicity. This is the biggest issue with Exodus in general, it massively leans towards the Zionest slant of the story and appears to depict that everything good about Ancient Egypt came off the sweaty and bloodied backs of Hebrews.

I won’t even go into whether that is right or wrong historically, however it comes across as somewhat deliberate, to the extent that it may prevent the film getting any long-term praise for its technical merits in a similar fashion to Mel Gibson’s historical bludgeonings like The Patriot and The Passion. I can’t imagine the Arabic community at large being terribly ecstatic about the movie either, which then makes you wonder who the movie is really being made for? The general viewership won’t care for the underlaying message or the historical appeal, they just want to be entertained.

Ultimately this is where Exodus misses the mark. The marketing for the film implies (at least in my person interpretation) an epic battle at the centre of the conflict between Moses and Ramsee however it simply doesn’t exist. In fact the film’s main action sequence is over and done with rather quickly into proceedings. That leaves you waiting patiently for something that never really occurs and whilst you’re sitting back enjoying the Plague scenes (which are truly spectacular by the way) you’re still looking forward to the big climatic battle, which is sadly denied and audiences don’t enjoy feeling mislead about what they’re handing over money for.

The ending really doesn’t satisfy in any sense and I’m left to wonder how much better this could have been if a few tweaks had been made here and there. For me, this is a film for fans of ancient/religious history but isn’t quite good enough for the main stream. The critics will have quickly panned any slim Oscar chances for Exodus as far as Cinematic achievement goes, however I will give this massive kudos for the stunning costume, make-up and set design as previously mentioned… its here where the movie really excels and does have some legitimate chance of picking up some accolades during awards season.

In conclusion, go and see it and enjoy it as it is pretty good, but its far from a genre-classic like it’s director’s other attempts such as Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven (directors cut only of course!)

The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls is good.  It is very good.  It’s just not great.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

boxtrolls… … …dammit.

The Story So Far: I have been spending this year attempting to watch every single non-horror film released in 2014 that comes my way (this, for frame of reference, is my 52nd review of the year for the 78th film I have seen during it), but I have been going out of my way to see every animated film that is released in the year as part of my ongoing life quest to absorb all of the animation ever.  For, as previously mentioned, I adore animation.  It holds a special place in my heart and the medium is one awash with amazing possibilities that, when realised, are nearly unmatched for me in the world of film.  Unfortunately, 2014 has not been a particularly good year for the medium so far.  Sure, we’ve had The Lego Movie and Mr. Peabody & Sherman, I am not disputing and downplaying the extent to which I enjoyed those films, but those were both released in February and, well, nothing else has really come close to great since then.  How To Train Your Dragon 2 was a major disappointment for me (and, yes, I know that I am in the minority with regards to that series), Rio 2 was merely divertingly decent viewing, and everything else has basically sucked miserably.

But all hope was not lost for me!  For the last four months were going to bring forth two saviours who were going to make the crap worthwhile (not three, because Disney’s Big Hero 6 doesn’t hit UK shores until January for literally no good REASON).  The end of October was going to bring The Book Of Life, the debut feature of El Tigre: The Adventures Of Manny Rivera’s Jorge R. Gutierrez and which looks full of charm and visual splendour that nobody else in the animated-feature industry seems willing to try.  But, before that, there would be The Boxtrolls.  Now, I think it would be fair to say that my expectations for The Boxtrolls prior to entry were high: Laika, the company behind the film, are previous of Coraline and ParaNorman, the latter being one of my very favouritist films of 2012 and my second-favourite animated film of all-time.  I actually entered 2014 with The Boxtrolls being my single most anticipated film of the whole year.  Some might say that I had crippled the film before I’d even seen a single frame, putting too much pressure and expectation on a film that it could not possibly live up to.

Maybe those people are true, maybe I built myself up for disappointment.  That, however, is a theory.  You want facts, so here are the facts: The Boxtrolls is good.  The Boxtrolls is very good.  I had a lot of fun with it, I laughed, I gasped up, my heart got a minor stirring from my emotions.  The Boxtrolls is not great.  The reason why The Boxtrolls is not great is down to its messy, unfocussed and sub-par screenplay.  The Boxtrolls, ultimately, is a disappointment, only for legitimate reasons instead of unreasonably high expectations.  And now you know why I started off this review with “… … …dammit.”

Our story concerns the town of Cheesebridge, a Victorian-style place where class structures are everything and everyone has an obsession for cheese that overrides all common senses for some reason.  Residing below the streets of Cheesebridge are a race of creatures known as Boxtrolls (primarily voiced by Dee Bradley Baker and Steve Blum), friendly little scavenger and worker creatures who everyone mistakes for fierce monsters due to the fact that they don’t look normal (yes, we are working towards the same moral that ParaNorman had but in a far clumsier way, more on that shortly).  Not helping matters is the fact that one night, they end up taking a human boy, who they dub Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), from the surface and raise him as one of their own.  This leads to the slimy and opportunistic Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) presenting his Boxtroll exterminator service to the townsfolk with the promise of an entry into the town’s high society if he successfully completes his planned genocide.  A decade or so later, most of the Boxtrolls have been captured and Eggs decides to try and rescue them.  Tagging along is a human girl, named Winnie (Elle Fanning), with a perverse fascination for the violent Boxtroll stories that Snatcher has been perpetuating (or maybe it’s just Boxtrolls in general, it’s rather unclear).

Right, the good first.  As is par for the course, by this point, the animation is fantastic.  It’s much less busy than Coraline and ParaNorman, even when madcap chase scenes abound, but it’s no less detailed and no less convincing.  The folks over at Laika have done an outstanding job with the look and feel of Cheesebridge, excellently evoking the mood of a Victorian town with its cobbled roads, tight streets and towering buildings.  There’s a good sense of scale.  Character movements are even more fluid than in ParaNorman and facial expressions have never been more perfectly expressive.  Snatcher, in particular, can go from humorously ineffectual-looking to menacing through a change in position, facial expression and camera placement, especially when the film reveals the identity he’s been using to ingratiate himself into high society.  It’s all really charming, too, that natural stop-motion love seeping through every frame.  Lighting is fantastic, shadows are very convincing, with an early scene at night reminding easily reminding all that Laika are the kings at atmosphere in the animated realm.

Occasionally, though, the film does revert to CG to animate more complex movements and the like.  I wouldn’t bring this up if it was near-seamless, like in ParaNorman, but it really isn’t.  The quality is very low, excess motion blur poorly hides said low-quality, it gels badly with the non-CG’d stuff and a lot of it feels extraneous, animations that would have been possible to perform in stop-motion but were probably assigned CG duty due to encroaching deadlines and the like.  It’s not enough to bring the film down, after all I will be remembering the exceptional character animations and facial work long after this movie has left the cinemas, but it is enough to be noticeable and warrant a mild calling out.  I have no problem with CG being used to enhance your stop-motion, Laika, ParaNorman did it fantastically, but it needs to be of a higher standard than this.

Character designs, meanwhile, are very strong.  The film has to walk a thin line between “ugly cute” and “just plain ugly”, in order to both convey the grimy Victorian time period design and be able to play the titular characters as alternately cute and menacing depending on whose point of view we’re looking at, but it manages to do so with aplomb.  The Boxtrolls themselves all have minor individual yet distinctive designs that make it easy to tell apart who is who, and they are honestly really rather adorable, especially when they start moving.  As previously mentioned, Snatcher has a design that easily lends itself to whatever tone the material he is involved in takes.  Eggs and Winnie also have distinctive designs, even if Eggs is sometimes a bit too dirty to be 100% pleasant to look at and Winnie’s design never seems to quite escape the pompous scowl that she mostly holds.  I must, however, applaud the character designers’ choice to have Winnie have a noticeably fuller body type than is usually displayed in kids’ films.  You might think this means little and is rather inconsequential, but I guarantee that there will be some young girl out there who sees something like that, something that is not made fun of once I must add, and will find it a huge self-esteem boost.  Trust me, it’ll mean more than you think to somebody.

Speaking of kids, now seems as good a time as any to put to bed a couple of things that other critics have been saying about the film.  No, the character designs are not too ugly for kids to love.  I know this for a fact because my screening was rammed full of families and the kids there loved the little Boxtrolls.  Many of them even audibly and visually got very excited at the standee for the film that was situated near me whilst I did some reviewing between films; one even got their parent to take a picture of them with it.  The other thing is that some critics have claimed that the film, and the finale especially, will be too scary for children.  Not only is it demonstrably false (again, I was in a screening filled with kids and they all loved it and weren’t bothered by its darker moments in the slightest), it both shows a severe underestimation on the part of critics with regards to their thoughts on children and gives off the suspicion that none of them have seen Laika’s prior work.  Compared to Coraline, which basically was just a straight horror film for kids, The Boxtrolls is more along the lines of James & The Giant Peach.  In fact, that was even the distinct feeling I had when I got out of the film, a strong recollection of the movie of James & The Giant Peach.

So, if you really do have to judge an animated movie based solely on the insulting criteria of whether kids will love it: rest easy.  I was in a screening full of them and they were all audibly having a tremendous time, loving every character and not being traumatised in the slightest.  Normally I wouldn’t take the time out to mention this, but I thought I’d nip some misconceptions in the bud before they become commonplace.

Anyways, back to what the film does right: The Boxtrolls is a lot of fun.  The action scenes are exciting, the film is well-paced if awkwardly plotted and structured (we’ll get to that), and its jokes are fast, frequent and very funny.  Much like with ParaNorman, the jokes cover the whole spectrum, but they are a bit broader, like everyone involved is cutting loose due to not being constrained by a horror aesthetic this time.  Slapstick is brilliantly staged and deployed (finally!), a piece of grotesque body horror actually ends up as one of the film’s funnier gags, there’s a segment where Eggs is attempting to fit into a high society banquet and, whilst they are rather obvious and very telegraphed, the jokes there are some of the film’s best, Snatcher’s secret side-identity is a very easy gag but I still laughed because Ben Kingsley takes it all the way (in fact, I’m just going to go ahead and single out Ben Kingsley from the very good voice cast now because it saves me a paragraph in a minute), and then there are Mr. Pickles and Mr. Trout.  Mr. Pickles and Mr. Trout are two of Snatcher’s henchmen, voiced by Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost respectively, and they are both having existential quandaries about their place in the universe and the good vs. evil narrative they’re partaking in.  As you can probably guess, their material is some of the funniest in the film, in particular because Ayoade and Frost rattle it all off near-flawlessly.

boxtrolls 2

And yet, despite those last few paragraphs of points in its favour, and the fact that it easily slots into the highest echelons of the year’s animated films, I was still disappointed with The Boxtrolls.  Why?  No, it’s not because I am “a hard-to-please-killjoy”.  It all comes back to the screenplay.  Yes, it’s very funny and well-paced.  It is also a huge mess: trying to do too much in too little time, giving most everyone the short ends of various sticks, never quite grasping who most of the characters actually are, and clumsily re-treading ground that ParaNorman covered two years ago.  With the characters, the villains are all really well drawn and defined and easy to get a handle on, but the leads are mostly lightweight and not as detailed.  Winnie, in particular, never seems to be a completely defined character and I never did quite figure out whether her interest in the Boxtrolls was because of them, the gruesome stories that Cheesebridge perpetuates about them, or whether it’s just her attempting to get attention from her neglectful parents.  Incidentally, Cheesbridge’s extreme obsession with cheese never really amounts to anything, as if it’s just supposed to stand in for their entire character.  Also, notice how the titular Boxtrolls seem to get the short shrift, barely being relevant outside of their being a plot device?  Yeah, that’s the problem here.

We get to know Fish because he’s Eggs’ adopted father, and Shoe gets a tiny bit of screen-time, but that’s about it.  They may all look distinct and individual, but most of the Boxtrolls are interchangeable when it comes to personalities.  We learn that they scavenge and are peaceful and that they sleep by stacking themselves one on top of another in the most adorable thing you will see all weekend, but I never felt like I learnt anything about them.  They’re important because they’re cute, they’re important to Eggs and nobody wants to see a genocide, and that’s about the extent of it.  You know how Despicable Me 2 had us spend a lot of time with the Minions to make the eventual happenings that occur to them carry genuine weight beyond just “nobody wants to see the cute things hurt”?  Yeah, the same isn’t true of the Boxtrolls.  They mostly just sit in the background, as, in fact, do most of the heroes, whilst the villains take centre-stage unless it is absolutely necessary for them to appear.  That’s a damn shame, both because they are really cute and personality-filled, and also because the film’s message of tolerance and inclusivity rings false when, well, they’re mostly kept on the sidelines for the villains.

As for that message of tolerance, inclusivity and acceptance regardless of race, gender, age, physical deformities, sexuality, etc.?  It sounds rather similar to the one that ParaNorman sported, doesn’t it?  That’s the other problem.  A lot of The Boxtrolls’ best moments, its best scenes and emotional beats, were done before in ParaNorman and done much, much better.  ParaNorman had a whole cast of fantastically well-drawn characters that were full of depth, whilst The Boxtrolls kinda doesn’t and that really ends up hurting it.  There’s no real emotional centre, nothing connects like it should, the big moments don’t resonate.  Winnie’s arc with her parents neglecting or just straight up ignoring her was done way better in ParaNorman, working that neglect into actual character reasons rather than just irritating absurdity.  That film’s message of tolerance and acceptance was woven right into its DNA and addressed, again, through actual character work instead of just plot mechanics.  But when The Boxtrolls goes for its own path, it falls down even harder.  The middle of the film reveals how Eggs got into the hands of Fish and Shoe and it’s based around an action that really ratchets up the menace for Snatcher at just the time he needs it… but then there’s a twist at the three-quarters mark that undoes that for no real reason than to just give Eggs everything at the ending.  There is no plot reason for this change in course.  It just feels like the film wimping out, something that Coraline and ParaNorman never even dreamt of doing.

Then, much like this part of the review, there’s the awkward structure.  As you may have noticed, we spend a large amount of time in the presence of the film’s villains and, whilst they are very entertaining, it ends up reducing the already underwritten heroes even more and highlighting that problem in bright colours that could be seen from the moon.  They really need reduced screen time, time that we should instead be spending with Eggs as he goes through his identity crisis, or even just the Boxtrolls themselves so that we can actually fear for their plight.  Meanwhile, the film’s decision to start right as the Boxtrolls take in Eggs gives us no real status-quo.  There’s no real indication as to how things were before the bad times started, we get no real idea as to how the Boxtrolls act in their downtime (read: not being chased and captured) and, again, this all feeds into the hollow emotional centre.  Besides their cuteness, I know nothing about them and I have no clue what things were like for them before they started having to truly fear for their lives.  The film also starts off really awkwardly, taking too long to set things up properly and not finding its footing for at least 15 minutes, and I could practically see the gears creak (pun kind of intended) when it came to moving things into place for the finale.  This screenplay, as you may have gathered, is a mess and badly needed substantial rewrites before the film entered production; shame it never got them.

The Boxtrolls is a highly entertaining ride, I will admit.  I had a lot of fun and, as is the usual case for Laika productions, the animation is gorgeous and the voice work is splendid.  But it lacks the giant beating heart that Coraline and ParaNorman had.  Its screenplay is too messy, short-changing too many characters and being too muddled in its overall aims.  When it cribs from ParaNorman, which is does a lot, it only serves to show how bereft of genuine depth this film has and how badly the screenplay needed major rewrites.  Whereas those prior films really connected on a strong emotional level, in ways that stick with me to this day (ParaNorman, especially), The Boxtrolls instead just entertains and will likely fade from my memory soon enough.  A lot of effort has clearly gone in here, it’s one of the year’s better animated features and it’s still very good.  Unfortunately, seeing as we’re talking about Laika here, “very good” isn’t good enough for me.  You could probably give them credit for already reaching the “good enough isn’t good enough” point after only two prior films, but it only stands to show the fact that, despite the large amounts of fun I had with it, The Boxtrolls ultimately disappointed me.  Dammit.

OK, The Book Of Life.  It’s all on you now.  Don’t mess up.

Callum Petch should have just named you Laika.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 Ben Kingsley MandarinA year older, wiser, and fatter (in some cases) and the Failed Critics Podcast is back with a bit of a redbranding and format shake-up. Worry not, it’s still the same four idiots (three this week) talking about film from our respective bedrooms via an unstable network connection.

This week we review the start of Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 2 with Shane Black’s Iron Man 3. We’ve dusted off Spoiler Alert especially for the occasion  and James even finally got around to watching all the Marvel Phase 1 movies. He gives his opinions on those in What We’ve Been Watching, while Steve struggles to make head or tail out of the utterly bonkers and surreal Holy Motors.

We’re back next week, hopefully with Gerry and a discussion on Studio Ghibli.

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A Decade In Film: The Eighties – 1982

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1982.

5. Space Adventure Cobra

spaceactioncobra“So, are you taking any bets on how this is going to end?”

Space Adventure Cobra is perhaps the oldest in a line of 80’s/90’s Anime that adorned my Video shelf as a teenager. Being released only a few years after the original Star Wars, it steals from the source material incessantly even beginning with a large Starship flyover, however it is far from a film for all the family.

The story follows Cobra, the most wanted man in the galaxy who is on a voyage to protect a beautiful female bounty-hunter whom is being hunted by the evil ‘Space Mafia Guild’. Cobra himself is the happy go lucky, overly confident macho hero who is very much Han Solo crossed with Mega Man, due to the ability to morph his left arm into a powerful Psycho Cannon.

The aesthetics of the movie certainly complement the era it’s trying to imitate, with vivid colour and a Vengelis-esque soundtrack, it may lack the polished animation that later Manga will trademark yet is still so easy on the eye.

Every Star Wars wannabe needs a bad guy and that comes in the form of the seemingly indestructible ‘Lord Necron’, who resembles more Dr. Doom (of the Marvel Universe) or perhaps even the camped up bling-bling diva that is Emperor Xerxes from ‘300’ more than the Sci-Fi baddie archetype Darth Vader.

The film is a charming love-story, brilliant sci-fi and hypnotic psychedelica all crammed into the right running time for easy viewing. The saga continued in a popular anime comic and has spawned a cult following. If a movie has ever paid a better tongue-in-cheek homage to classic sci-fi then I’d very much like to see it! Cobra provides a bite-sized action adventure that defies its age and leaves a lasting legacy that it is ‘Love’ not good, that will conquer all.

4. Tootsie

TootsieI was a better man with you, as a woman… than I ever was with a woman, as a man. You know what I mean?

The 80’s did two types of movies better than any other decade, action movies and great comedies. Tootsie is a delightful example of taking a ridiculous concept, adding a great ensamble cast and making on screen hilarity ensue. The focus of the film is on Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) an actor who is a notoriously difficult to work with, as he struggles to line up his next big role. He takes matters into the extreme by creating a female counter-part, Dorothy Michaels to enable to find work. However he never banked upon falling in love with the lovely fresh faced Jessica Lange or the number of men who’d fall for his less than classical feminine character!

The cast really makes this movie so watchable. Aside from Lange and Hoffman, you have a typically funny supporting role from the legendary Bill Murray, a creepy TV actor has-been in George Gaynes (better known as Commandant Lassard in Police Academy) and a very early mini role for Geena Davis. Hoffman is quite brilliant as Dorothy, much more so than he is as Michael. His no nonsense approach to his professional and personal life which rendered him so unemployable as a male makes him a prime candidate for a full time soap opera role as powerful leading lady.

This allows him much closer access to Lange’s character who is a single mother being taken advantage of by the show’s creepy producer, she slowly gains a remarkable liking for the mysterious and refreshing hard-nosed approach of Dorothy, wishing she could emulate her. Dorothy begins to spend more time with Lange outside of work and there is a particularly disturbing heart to heart part way through the movie whereby you actually wonder if Lange’s character is falling in love with a transvestite, unbeknownst to her! It’s an awkwardness so convincing that it landed her the Oscar for Best Supporting actress!

It goes without saying that Hoffman really delivers when thrust into extreme roles, such as that he will later take up in Rain Man. This movie really sets a blue print for those that follow in the 90’s such as Mrs. Doubtfire, but even that does not match the innocence and delight of Tootsie, which was 1982’s 2nd highest grossing film behind E.T!

3. First Blood

first-blood-knife-rambo“I could have killed ’em all, I could’ve killed you. In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it! Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go!”

It’s the movie that defined the action hero archetype. Sylvester Stallone is John Rambo, vagrant Vietnam veteran, passing through a sleepy mountain town that simply does not want him spoiling their idyllic scenery. He crosses the path of Teasle (Brian Dennehy), Sherriff of the town who makes it clear on no uncertain terms that he should leave town immediate and escorts him to the town borders. However when Rambo marches back the wrong way, he is taken into custody having committed no crime.

He eventually escapes into the wilderness and begins a one man guerrilla war against the inept local law enforcement. It likely encouraged a generation of youngsters to enter into their local woods planting booby-traps and getting gimped up in camouflage face-paint, or was that just me and my friends?

Unlike later Stallone action romps, the action here is subtle and realistic; it’s a stealth war against meandering nincompoops. It’s also one of the few movies where Stallone talks fairly eloquently, it would seem he perhaps dumbed himself down for many roles he played later.

Whilst the action is clever and satisfying, it poses a greater moral concern to the American viewing public as to how veterans are perceived upon leaving service, particularly those deployed to Vietnam. It demonstrates a common disregard for soldiers who served in a messy war, something that Hollywood was slow to highlight. Later efforts such as Born on The Forth of July picked up the mantle, though it is arguable that that ‘First Blood’ is more mainstream friendly, thus ramming home the undeniable truth to a wider audience.

The Rambo character does for the action-movie genre what Hoover did for Vacuum cleaners. It became the synonymous figure for the unstoppable one-man army genre that dominated the 80’s. It spawned 3 sequels, non of which live up to the original in my opinion, but First Blood was the movie that established Stallone beyond Rocky and saw his career go supernova!

2. Blade Runner

Blade Runner“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

It was a difficult decision in regards to the positioning of my favourite two movies of 1982, both are worthy of the grandest title of them all. I think you’ll approve of my final choice, however there is much time to discuss the grandeur of my number two choice.

I was fortunate to only see Blade Runner for the first time in my twenties, a good 25 years after its release. I feel much of its subtle appeal and nuances would have passed me by at a younger age. Co-produced by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner is sci-fi indulged on the most epic of scales. From the monumental soundtrack by Vengelis, to its dark and wet Urban backdrops dashed in Neon lighting creating a Future Noir masterpiece. Blade Runner is easily one of the most visually impressive movies ever created.

The film follows Deckard (Harrison Ford) who is a Blade Runner, a group of specialist police assembled to hunt Replicants, which are near perfect human duplications with enhanced strength and tolerance to pain. He is assigned one last case to hunt down 4 recently escaped Replicants and ‘retire them’ before they cause havoc on the LA populous and ultimately meet their maker.

Ford puts in a great performance as the care-free and seemingly nonchalant Deckard, who shows no sympathy for those he is trying to hunt, or those whom his spiteful tongue might disturb, namely that of the seemingly emotionless Rachel (Sean Young) who is introduced to Deckard as test subject for Replicant interrogation, yet she is unaware that she is even a Replicant.

Lining up for the Replicants is Darryl Hannah and a career defining performance from Rutger Hauer, whose soliloquy as quoted at the beginning of this piece brings together a fitting finale that ties up many of the movies deeper residing themes,  which can be easily lost when distracted purely by the visual brilliance of the film.

A particularly favourite piece of eye-candy during this film is the scene where Deckard shoots one of the escaped Replicants following a chase from a strip club, A a rather stunning young lady is fleeing her would-be assassin wearing nothing but spiked boots and a see-through PVC rainmack.  The moment that she is shot in the back by Deckard as she crashes through several panes of glasses, all of which are illuminated by an abundance of neon is one of my all time favourite scenes for sheer visual impact.

The greatest gift the movie leaves for the viewer is that of an ending open to interpretation, is Deckard a Replicant or a human is ambiguous at best with strong cases for either. Fortunately this is one classic movie whose legacy has not been destroyed with a meaningless sequel meaning you can decipher the evidence and make your own conclusions.

It’s yet another IMDB Top 250 for Harrison Ford who was really at the top of his game during the few years either side of this movie, Blade Runner resides as a Science Fiction hall of famer and one of the best films ever made.

1. Gandhi

Ghandi Ben Kingsley“The function of a civil resistance is to provoke response and we will continue to provoke until they respond or change the law. They are not in control; we are.”

There are few movies that have stirred me as much as watching this movie for the first time. Directed by the mighty Richard Attenborough, the film follows the tribulations of Mohandas Gandhi, an English educated lawyer and Indian immigrate who is assigned to a practice in South Africa and is immediately subjugated to horrendous treatment due to his ethnicity. He leads a minor rebellion against the white British establishment, seeking equal rights for all races in South Africa and becomes a national hero back in India.

Upon returning to his home nation seeking peace and tranquillity he finds the problems of subjugation have not eluded him and the rape of his country’s resources prompt him to become the spearhead for India’s claim for independence from the British empire. This is accomplished using a innovative tactic of ‘peaceful rebellion’ or more accurately referred to as ‘non-cooperation.

Ben Kingsley is brilliantly cast as Gandhi and is entirely convincing in playing the hero of the movie, both in terms of aesthetic suitability and the humility he brings to the screen. It’s very difficult to take your eye off Kingsley during the whole film, it’s almost as if you’re watching the real Gandhi and it is truly a remarkable performance considering he’d done very little outside of TV roles at this point in his career.

It leaves a somewhat nasty taste in the mouth to see Kingsley selling himself short in movies such as 2012’s ‘The Dictator’ playing a somewhat stereotyped and foolish middle-eastern politician, it removes some shine from the legacy he build for himself in the Gandhi role and directly insults the magnitude of his performance. That said he deservedly bagged himself the 1983 Best Actor gong at the Oscars and the movie itself taking a tremendous haul of 7 further Oscars. It really is a heavyweight of a movie and is a must see for fan of history, particularly that of the civil-rights movement or the British Empire

In regards to the latter, it opens up some scar tissue and painful memories of how the British treated their colonial Empire. This is particularly emphasised in the excruciatingly merciless killing at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre where up to a 1000 men, women and children were trapped and shot by the British army during a peaceful protest. The movie closes out with the crushing division of Indian Territory following independence prompting the founding of Pakistan and the eventual assassination of Gandhi himself.

A lifetime of defiance in the name of justice, Gandhi established himself as one of the most important persons of the 20th Century and this movie more than does him worthy and is an incredible addition to the IMDB Top 250 and my best movie of 1982.